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The tradition of the composer–performer goes back to the Renaissance and probably further, In our times this tradition has been particularly successful among guitarists.

We welcome to our stage four established American composer-guitarists who bring their unique voices and share their dual roles. As 92Y’s Art of the Guitar Artistic Director Ben Verdery writes in his introduction, “These artists share in a long legacy of the composer-performer. It is in their DNA to create music on their instrument. It is also their adventuresome musical spirit that particularly distinguishes them as American. Like Copeland, they have explored the various musical traditions of our country with vigor and passion.”

“Classical guitar recitals don’t get much better than this. Frederic Hand … is also one of today’s most fascinating composers, able to weave together a variety of influences, from jazz to Dowland to the avant-garde.”—Guitar Review

Not many composers manage to be equally satisfying to the hands, the ear and the mind as Leisner has.”—Guitar Review

“”Riley’s compositions, especially the slower ones, frequently have relaxed, improvisational character. In the faster movements, it's clearer how carefully worked out they are.”’—

"Andrew York’s eclectic writing and playing constitute one of the hippest styles in American classical guitar...his writing projects levels of honesty, spirit and magnetism that are rare in contemporary guitar composition.”—Guitar Player

Join us for a free pre-concert talk at 7 pm with your ticket, with Benjamin Verdery, artistic director of 92Y’s Art of the Guitar series and chair of Yale’s guitar department.

Frederic Hand, guitar
David Leisner, guitar
      with Tara Helen O’Connor, flute
Gyan Riley, guitar
Andrew York, guitar



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Art of the Guitar and the 92nd Street Y Guitar Institute are supported by The Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. and Erna D. Leir; The Augustine Foundation; and The D’Addario Music Foundation.

Frederic Hand - Prayer

"Shelter" by David Leisner

Gyan Riley performing his composition "Food for the Bearded"

Andrew York - "Sunburst" ("Jubilation")

Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

American Guitarist-Composers—An Introduction

By Benjamin Verdery, 92Y Art of the Guitar artistic director

All four artists in this concert have a direct connection to the great vihealists, lutenists, and Baroque and classical guitarists who constitute part of the rich history of the modern guitar—they share in the long legacy of the composer-performer. It is in their DNA to create music on their instrument. And just like their illustrious predecessors, these four masters—American all—have created a body of guitar music that will endure for the ages.

These artists were born and raised in this country but it is their adventuresome musical spirit that particularly distinguishes them as American. Like Copeland, they have explored the various musical traditions of our country with vigor and passion. The musical terrain covered by these composers—in both their concerts and compositions—spans from African American Spirituals to Shaker Hymns, from Samuel Barber to Miles Davis and Bill Evans; from rock and funk to Minimalism and beyond. With these and other traditions they have created their own distinct musical voice on the instrument we and they love so dearly.

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Notes on the Program


Born in Brooklyn, 1947

Notes on the Program:
For Julian (composed in 2007; 4 minutes):
My introduction to the guitar and my first musical inspiration (at six years old) was the great Spanish guitarist, Andrés Segovia. When I was a teenager, Julian Bream burst onto the classical guitar scene. Through his recordings and concerts, a whole new world of music opened to me, ranging from Elizabethan to contemporary masters. Shortly after I graduated from college, I had the incredible good fortune of spending a year studying with Maestro Bream in England, under the auspices of the Fulbright Commission.

For Julian was composed in the fall of 2007. I premiered it here at 92nd Street Y, in a concert celebrating Bream’s 75th birthday and his life’s work. Originally scored for an eight-course Renaissance lute, I juxtaposed musical elements of the Renaissance with contemporary rhythms and harmonies. A few years ago I started playing For Julian on the guitar. The transposition down a minor third adds a tonal warmth, that, as Bream might say, “I rather fancy.”

Sephardic Songs (composed in 1996; 12 minutes):
The music of the medieval and Renaissance periods has often served as an inspiration for my creative work. These Sephardic songs survived in the same way as the people who sang them, by assimilating into various cultures. The songs have surfaced over the years in many different countries with a wide variety of arrangements and instrumentations. Below are the English translations from the original Ladino.

“Una Pastora Yo Ami”: I loved a shepherdess, a beautiful girl from my childhood. I told her that I loved her like no other. I grew up and searched for her. She took another and I lost her. She had forgotten me, but I always loved her.

“Ah, El Novio No Quere Dinero”: Oh, the bridegroom wants no money, he wants only his bride of good fortune. I have come to wish them joy, prosperity and all manner of good things.

“Durme, Durme” (a Ladino lullaby): Sleep, sleep, beautiful child; sleep, sleep free from worry and pain.

“A La Una Yo Naci”: At 1 I was born, at 2 I grew up, at 3 I took a lover, at 4 I married into the world, soul, life and heart. Going off to war, I throw kisses into the air. One is for my mother, the other is for you, soul, life and heart.

Prayer (composed in 1984; 4 minutes):
Having spent countless hours listening to and playing the music of J.S. Bach, his influence finds its way into my compositions. One evening, sitting with the guitar and improvising, this piece presented itself to me. There was no conscious desire to imitate or pay homage to Bach. But after the final note was written, I had no doubt as to where the inspiration for this “prayer– like” piece had come from.

Samba (composed in 1987; 5 minutes):
Because I adore Brazilian music and am a great fan of Antônio Carlos Jobim, Luis Bonfá, João Gilberto, Baden Powell and Milton Nascimento, among others, I wrote “Samba.”

—by Frederic Hand

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Frederic Hand is hailed as a composer, arranger, guitarist and recording artist, whose works are published worldwide. His composition Prayer, recorded by John Williams, was nominated for a Grammy Award. He arranged and performed the theme from the Academy Award-winning film, Kramer vs. Kramer, which led to the best-selling recording, Baroque and on the Street for CBS Records. His television scoring credits include “Sesame Street,” “As the World Turns” and “The Guiding Light,” for which he received an Emmy Award.

As a guitarist, Mr. Hand tours throughout North America and Europe. He is the appointed guitarist and lutenist with the Metropolitan Opera and was heard this season in The Barber of Seville and The Merry Widow. Noted for his unique performances of early music, he is the creator and director of Jazzantiqua, which has recorded for Music Masters. His other recordings include Heart’s Song on Music Masters and Trilogy, an album of solo guitar music released by the Musical Heritage Society. He has performed as a guest artist with the New York and Vienna philharmonics, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the Waverly Consort, and at the Marlboro and Mostly Mozart music festivals, among others.

Mr. Hand’s playing and improvisations have been heard in numerous films, including This Boy’s Life and The Next Man, and he appeared onstage on Broadway in John Osborne’s A Patriot for Me. He has taught master classes and given residencies at conservatories and universities across the country, and he currently serves on the faculty of Mannes College the New School for Music. His website is

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Notes on the Program


Born in Los Angeles, December 22, 1953

Notes on the Program:
Labyrinths for Solo Guitar (composed in 2007; 15 minutes):
The visual patterns of nature are a mesmerizing, infinite source of inspiration. Waves of wind and water, the shifting play of light and shadow, the maze of lines and shapes on rocks and trees .... In recent compositions, I have attempted to translate some of this into music. Labyrinths has five movements. In Shimmer, a four-note arpeggiated chord journeys through a cycle of repetitions, with a different arpeggio pattern for each set of repetitions. Each time a new cycle begins, one note in the chord changes, while the length of each cycle changes as well, in a gradual metamorphosis that moves inexorably away from the starting point, creating a complex aural maze. In Shadow, a four-note motif of fourths bounces around, with its “shadows” either imitating or contradicting—a little game, a scherzo, perhaps.

In the third movement, a low note shivers, a high note twitters like a bird, and the dialogue continues with the shivers increasingly higher and the twitters descending, meeting at last in the middle. In Shatter, a repetition pattern of a chromatic five-note motif leaps around the fingerboard in wild octave displacements, erupting into a violent “shattering” of snap pizzicati. This sets off a “worried” group of three notes in another pattern of repetitions. The leaping, shattering and worrying continue until they vanish into thin air. Finally, Shelter quietly obsesses on a simple three-note melody, accompanied by open strings, constantly varying the meter and phrase length. Toward the end there is a gentle sonic surprise.

Acrobats for Flute and Guitar (composed in 2002;12 minutes):
Nathan Englander’s debut short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, contains a story called “The Tumblers.” In it a group of Polish Jews, during World War II, is herded onto trains bound for the concentration camps, but instead, by chance, they board a train full of circus performers on tour to entertain the Germans. The story is set in an atmosphere where fateful decisions about life or death are made in an instant, by a nod of the head or toss of a coin.

Acrobats brings to musical life the final moments of the story, when the reluctant, disheveled performers are about to go on stage, barely having a clue of what it is they are supposed to do, but knowing that their lives depend on it. The piece is not intended to be a narrative description of these moments, but rather a musical evocation of the inner mental and emotional activity. In the first movement, In the Wings, the acrobats wait offstage with nervous anticipation, distracted by thoughts darting here and there—premonitions of themes of the second and third movements. This is followed by Flashback, a sudden memory of the pain, struggle and near-death experience that have brought them to this moment. The performers finally go Up in the Air, twisting, flipping and soaring in all manner of risky acrobatics. Just before the end, the guitar remembers an old Yiddish folk song, “Oyf’n Pripetshik,” a recollection of ancient Jewish roots in a contemporary world of assimilation. The piece ends with a return to the precarious. Acrobats is dedicated to my exceptional former student, Luiz Mantovani.

—by David Leisner

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David Leisner’s Biography

David Leisner has a multifaceted career as an electrifying performing artist, distinguished composer and master teacher. Mr. Leisner is a featured recording artist for the Azica label, with eight highly acclaimed solo recordings. The recently released Facts of Life features the premiere recordings of works he commissioned from David Del Tredici and Osvaldo Golijov. Other CDs are on the Naxos, Telarc and Koch labels, with a concert DVD published by Mel Bay.

Mr. Leisner’s recent seasons have taken him around the US, to Australia and New Zealand, Asia, Europe, Canada and Mexico. Celebrated for expanding the guitar repertoire, he has premiered works by many important composers, including David Del Tredici, Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Philip Glass, Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Sculthorpe and Osvaldo Golijov; he spearheaded the revival of the neglected 19th-century composers Johann Kaspar Mertz and Wenzeslaus Matiegka.

Mr. Leisner is also a respected composer noted for the emotional and dramatic power of his music. His works have been performed, recorded and published worldwide. An extensive discography includes the much-praised Cedille CD, Acrobats, by the Cavatina Duo, while his principal publisher is Theodore Presser Co.

Recent works and commissions include Das Wunderbare Wesen for baritone Wolfgang Holzmair and solo cello, A Timeless Procession for Holzmair and string quartet, Vision of Orpheus for the St. Lawrence Quartet and himself, Embrace of Peace for the Fairfield Orchestra, and Battlefield Requiem for cellist Laurence Lesser and the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble. A distinguished teacher as well, Mr. Leisner is currently co-chair of the guitar department at the Manhattan School of Music. His website is

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Tara Helen O’Connor’s Biography

Flutist Tara Helen O’Connor is a member of the innovative woodwind quintet Windscape, a founding member of the 1995 Naumburg Award-winning New Millennium Ensemble, and the flute soloist of the Bach Aria Group. A passionate advocate of new music, Ms. O’Connor is also a member of the Talea and Cygnus ensembles. She regularly appears with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Brandenberg Ensemble, and at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Spoleto USA, Music@Menlo, Chamber Music Northwest and Music from Angel Fire, among many others.

An enthusiastic chamber musician and soloist, Ms. O’Connor has collaborated with such artists as violinist Jaime Laredo, violist Ida Kavafian, pianist Peter Serkin, flutist Ransom Wilson, clarinetist David Shifrin, soprano Dawn Upshaw and the Orion String Quartet. She was the first wind player to be selected for Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS 2, a program for emerging artists, and she is now an Artist of the CMS. She recently premiered a new chamber work by Sebastian Currier at CMS and Jonathan Berger’s new opera with the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

A recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, Ms. O’Connor received two Grammy nominations for Osvaldo Golijov’s recording, Yiddishbbuk. She has recorded for Deutsche Gramophon, EMI Classics, Arcadia, CRI, Koch and Bridge Records. She has been featured on A&E’s “Breakfast for the Arts” and has appeared on a PBS “Live From Lincoln Center” broadcast. She currently serves on the faculties of Purchase College, Bard College and Manhattan School of Music, and she gives a renowned annual master class at the Banff Centre in Canada.

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Notes on the Program


Born in Grass Valley, California, September 16, 1977

Notes on the Program:
The line between composer and performer is never more blurred or irrelevant than in improvisation. A mystery to the scorebound and a secret terror to the expressively shy, it is a natural musical and life force to musicians such as Gyan Riley.

Sombra (Shadow) (composed in 2013; 4 minutes) is an un-notated, improvisational piece that Riley first created at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Canada in May 2013. The concert, by his trio Eviyan (with Iva Bittova and Evan Ziporyn), was recorded live and Riley has returned to the Sombra structure in recital several times since. “For me the most important thing is to follow my instincts. I think that if you listen to your little internal voice, it will tell you what needs to happen,” he said in 2012. “And if what you do is genuine and honest, your audience will sense that and be moved. Or perhaps not… but at least you will feel good about it!”

An intimate appreciation of the pleasures and pains of technique is another characteristic trait of the composer-performer, and working against the grain of facile physicality and its attendant instrument clichés can be artistically liberating, as Riley demonstrates in his set of Six Etudes for the Right Hand (composed in 2007–13; 12 minutes) (And though the patterned impulses of each etude originate with the right hand, any guitarist who can make some of the left-hand stretches required has been pumping nylon seriously!)

The first four etudes of the group were written in 2007 and recorded on Riley’s 2011 album Stream of Gratitude, a gathering of pieces honoring important influences in his musical life. (Riley added the last two etudes in 2013.) Riley’s titles are almost self-annotating: irregular stresses skip across the rippling waves of “The Odd Arpeggio”; “The Less Odd Arpeggio” is an athletic gigue; “The Inner Voice” hides a line in melancholy chords; “Trilléggio” is a slithery study in technical nuance inspired by Nicolae Neacsu, the late Romani violinist and member of the band Taraf de Haïdouks; “iPick” could be the winning entry in a flat-picking competition, only with the nail of the index finger (“i” in standard righthand fingering) instead of a pick; and “Trillémolo” is a virtuosic combination of tremolo and cross-string trills.

Irican (composed in 2009; 6 minutes) is also from Stream of Gratitude, although here the dedication is to “the Mother Lands,” rather than to an individual. The word usually references an Irish/Mexican hybrid, but the expansive introduction (much longer on the record than in the score) sounds like the opening of a raga, a liquid exploration of bent and repeated tones over drones, and the piece has the earthy stomp of a Renaissance after-dance in its main metered section.

—by John Henken

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Gyan Riley won his first guitar in a raffle when he was 12 years old. After learning all of the songs in his cassette collection by ear, he began his career in music by becoming the first full-scholarship graduate guitar student at the San Francisco Conservatory. Over the years, Mr. Riley has performed throughout Europe, Canada, Latin America and the US, both as a soloist and within chamber and ensemble settings. As a composer, he has received commissions from the Carnegie Hall Corporation, the American Composers Forum and the New York Guitar Festival.

Mr. Riley has worked with an eclectic array of artists, including tabla player Zakir Hussain, bass guitarist Michael Manring, mandolin player Mike Marshall, soprano Dawn Upshaw, the San Francisco Symphony, the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, the Falla Guitar Trio, the World Guitar Ensemble and his father, the composer/pianist/vocalist Terry Riley. Among his recent engagements, he has played at Carnegie Hall, London’s Barbican Theatre, the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, Big Ears Festival and Moogfest.

Having recently relocated from the Bay area to New York City, Mr. Riley can frequently be heard performing at such local venues as (le) Poisson Rouge and Barbès. His current touring ensemble projects include the duo Probosci with violinist Timba Harris; the trio Eviyan with singer/violinist Iva Bittová and clarinetist Evan Ziporyn; and the electric guitar quartet Dither. Mr. Riley has released four solo CD titles and several CDs with other artists, most recently recording for the Tzadik Records label in New York. His website is

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Notes on the Program


Born in Atlanta, July 31, 1958

Notes on the Program:
I’ve been thinking about the timelessness of creativity. It seems that ideas come from a place unencumbered by time, surroundings or circumstance. Yet, as I reflect on a life of artistic expression, I consider the influence the past might have on the creative moment. When I was very young, the historical past seemed only a story that was already finished, gone, without potency in the present. But as I grew older, I realized that the past is still present, still very much with us, still casting its shadows into reality.

Music springs from a deeper source, and in certain ways is independent of the chronological age of the artist. Even pieces I wrote when I was a boy have the same essence as my current work. But as the years have gone by, there are also meaningful changes. Life brings us both joy and sorrow at the outer poles of experience. These emotions carve canyons in our being that can channel a greater flow of the creative force, in its myriad manifestations. In this way the past is still alive for all of us, as our present is ferried forward within these currents.

Glimmerings (composed in 2011; 14 minutes) has some subtle influence from early music, beginning with tuning the guitar like a Renaissance lute. Ride and Evensong offer contrasting expressions of motion followed by introspection; Knowing has a development section which is a nod to Scarlatti, whom I've always admired for the joy and freedom with which he developed his themes. Glimmer uses some right-hand harmonic techniques that I learned from Lenny Breau, and Joyn is a long exploration of the pitches 3-4-2-3, much of it during an ostinato accompaniment.

Yamour (composed in 2011; 6 minutes) is in the altered tuning D-A-D-F#-B-D, which offers some beautiful sonorities impossible to get in standard tuning. The stylistic directions surprised me as the piece evolved, blending multiple influences into a groovebased structure. It became clear that one section called out for a vocal texture. The voice is simple and without words, as it parallels an inner line. We respond powerfully to the voice, but it can be dangerous to use in instrumental music. A little voice goes a long way; too much and the listener will relegate the guitar to the role of mere accompaniment. This I strove to avoid, wanting to keep the pure instrumental form as the essential thing.

Centerpeace (composed in 2009; 7 minutes) was born from a collaboration with Andy Summers. I have rewritten it to give it life as a solo guitar work. Also, as in the tuning of Yamour, it is a landscape of texture and color in B minor.

Mechanism (composed in 2005; 5 minutes) embodies a type of writing that has grown in me over the last decade. Very intricate and complex, I had the idea of two little machines that become self-aware, then aware of each other, and they try to figure out how to communicate with each other. Sometimes they interact back and forth, sometimes together, not always in the same key, as they explore their new world of sentience. The energy is rock 'n' roll but the complexity is on another level.

—by Andrew York

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Andrew York’s compositions blend the styles of ancient eras with modern musical directions, creating music that is vital, multileveled and accessible. His music has been recorded by such guitar luminaries as Sharon Isbin, John Williams and Christopher Parkening, and Japanese pianist Mitsuko Kado. Younger guitarists have regularly made his music a staple of their repertoire and studies. The Los Angeles-based Vaughn Dance Company presented an entire show of modern dances choreographed to his works.

Mr. York received a Grammy Award as a member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet during his 16 years with the acclaimed ensemble. His tours span more than 30 countries; he recently made his 11th tour of Japan, and he has performed in Rome, Bogotá, Beijing, Ankara and Munich, among many other cities. Mr. York also freely crosses over stylistic borders—besides his classical contribution, he has extensive experience as a jazz guitarist. He performed with the Atlanta Symphony in the opera Ainadamar by Osvaldo Golijov; the recording won two Grammy awards.

Mr. York’s most recent solo recording, Yamour, was released both on CD and as a double-LP album, and it garnered the No. 1 spot in Acoustic Guitar’s Essential Recordings of 2012. His 2010 release, Centerpeace, offers individual collaborations with guitarist Andy Summers and pianists Mitsuko Kado and Allaudin Mathieu. He has recorded for the Sony–US, Sony–Japan, Telarc, GSP and Delos labels, and he has been included in numerous compilations, including Rhino Records' Legends of Guitar. He also performs in the documentary, Primal Twang. His website is

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